Adjusting to new language, culture was not the biggest challenge
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Munoz: I came to the United States with my mom and dad when I was 1. My brother and sister were born here. We returned to Mexico when I was 3 and stayed until I was 7. That’s when we made the final move to the United States and became citizens. My dad came ahead of us and found a job in the coalmines. It was two years before he could send for us. In reality I have only spent five years of my life in Mexico even though I was born there.
Gallacher: Do you have memories of it?
Munoz: I have memories of riding in an open wagon, going to the fields with my grandpa to watch everyone pick corn. I remember going with my mom and my grandma to milk the cow so we could make cheese. We didn’t have much, so we really depended on the land for our survival.
The little town we lived in didn’t have running water or electricity. We drank from a well and used oil lamps to light our home.
Gallacher: Were you close to your grandparents?
Munoz: Oh yes, very. My grandmother lives here now. She has been here for a long time. She acquired her citizenship because her father was born in what is now Silver City, New Mexico. When he was born it was still the territory of Mexico. So my great-grandparents were living in New Mexico when it became part of the United States.
We also come from a background of Native Americans, Cherokee on my mom’s side and Apache on my dad’s. My grandmother told us stories of living in huts that she called “hacales” and cooking outside with adobe ovens. The “hacales” were made of mud and straw just like the adobe ovens.
In those days, the men would go out to the fields to work and my grandma would do laundry and prepare a lunch for them. She said she would make dozens and dozens of tortillas so that they would be ready for when the men came home for lunch. After lunch, she would clean up and start preparing for dinner.
My grandma tells great stories. I can remember every Sunday we would go to her house. She would give all of us kids coffee, and we would sit and listen to her stories. She taught us how to watch for warnings in nature. I also learned a lot of home remedies from her that I still use today.
Gallacher: You first came to the United States when you were 1. How long did you stay?
Munoz: About three years. My brother and sister were both born here. I was almost 4 when we returned to Mexico. That is when my troubles with my hips began. It was my grandmother who saw immediately that something was wrong with me. She saw that there was something unusual about the way I walked, even though I was climbing fences and chasing chickens and pigs at the time.
My parents decided to take me to see a doctor. I can still remember the trip to Mexico City on the train. I was sitting on a mustard colored, vinyl seat wearing my pink, foot covered pajamas. I wasn’t afraid because it was this great adventure and I had no idea what was about to happen.
I started to get scared when we arrived at the hospital. The hospital staff wanted to take me in and leave my parents outside. At that time, a lot of people were going into these hospitals and not coming out. So my parents decided to take me to a different clinic in a town just outside of Mexico City.
The next memory I have is of waking in a bed after my very first surgery with nails in my knees. My legs were hanging over the bed and there were weights hanging off of the nails.
The doctors told my parents that I had hip dysplasia. They said that my hips had probably been dislocated since birth. I stayed in the hospital for what seemed like months while the doctors kept adding weights, trying to stretch my legs to equal lengths.
As it turned out, that didn’t happen until recently. So, after two surgeries, I was left with one leg six inches shorter than the other. Life became very difficult for me because I could no longer run and play like I used to.
Three years after my operations, my mom and my brother and sister and I came back to the United States to join my dad. He had been working in the mines at Mid-Continent for two years and had applied for our citizenship.
It wasn’t learning the English language or adjusting to the culture that challenged me. It was how I looked and walked, my disability. It was here in the United States at age 7 that my surgery saga began. Luckily, my dad had insurance through his work.
Gallacher: How many surgeries did you have?
Munoz: I had 40 surgeries from the time I was 7 till the time I was 14. I still have a special place in my heart for Dr. Weaver who came out of retirement to do my surgeries. He was very good to me, and that kept me going.
At 14 I was told that I could either continue with surgery or I could wait. I decided to wait. They told me I shouldn’t have kids because it would be too hard on me. I had four. But my last pregnancy did my hips in. They totally disintegrated. The doctors still don’t know how I was still walking after giving birth. I had my hips replaced six months after my last child was born.
That was 12 years ago, and I have been living without pain ever since.
Gallacher: So your childhood essentially ended when you were 3? How did you cope with that?
Munoz: I don’t know that I did. I didn’t get to participate in sports or get invited to parties. My disability defined who I was. Even now when I go to a party or a family gathering I have to be doing something, picking up dishes, sweeping the floor or serving food. It’s never a social thing for me.
Gallacher: Why is that?
Munoz: I think it’s because I never felt like I was invited or accepted. And so I made myself invisible. I was needed because I made myself needed by serving, by cleaning, by working. I kept myself busy. I was a straight-A student, even though I was in the hospital and out of school for months at a time. Even in a half-body cast I managed to keep my grades up and please all my teachers.
Growing up I had a lot of resentment in my life, and it wasn’t until I had my kids that my feelings started to change. They put me on the right path. Working to give them a better life helped me gain a different perspective. They gave me a reason to live. They didn’t judge me. They accepted me. With their support and encouragement I managed to go to college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree. They gave me a new lease on life.
Immigrant Stories runs Mondays in the Post Independent. To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado.blogspot.com.
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon closed around 9 p.m. Thursday for a flash flood warning.